The slow decline of Ricky Gervais has been hard to watch. The monumental success of The Office, which is rightfully regarded as one of the greatest British sitcoms of all time, and the hilarity of Extras, his stand-up specials and his hosting of the Golden Globes means that he’s amassed an adoring following. But his previous ventures onto the big screen as a writer and director with The Invention Of Lying and Cemetery Junction have both been underwhelming, while even his most recent scripted television output (Life’s Too Short and Derek) haven’t come close to matching his illustrious predecessors.
I was hopeful that Special Correspondents might get the best out of Ricky Gervais, though, as it is a feature film that’s being shown on Netflix. While his cinematic ideas have been overly ambitious and waylaid by his hackneyed directorial eye, he has always showcased a specific, unique and detailed humanistic approach on the small-screen.
Unfortunately, Special Correspondents doesn’t stem the tide of mediocrity from Ricky Gervais. In fact, it’s probably his worst creation to date, as his shtick and patter feels tired and tepid, as does his obsession with celebrity, which he approaches in an obvious and unsubtle fashion. It all just comes across as rather lazy and predictable.
A remake of the French film of the same name, Special Correspondents revolves around Frank Bonneville (Eric Bana) and Ian Finch (Ricky Gervais), a journalist and sound engineer who are tasked with traveling to war-torn Ecuador so that they can report on it for their New York-based radio station. On their journey to the airport, though, Ian accidentally throws away the pair’s passports, money, and tickets, leaving them stranded in New York with a deadline looming on their first report. In a panic, they decide to improvise, creating a fake news story. But when it’s revealed that they’re the only journalists that somehow managed to get into the country, they start to make up more and more lies to cover their tracks.
There’s an old-school Ealing-esque charm about Special Correspondents’ plot, while it does admittedly possess some funny moments, almost all of which comes from Ricky Gervais and Erica Bana as they plunge further into their abyss of lies and try to cover their tracks.
But Vera Farmiga’s fame-hungry Eleanor Finch, the wife of Ian who cheated on him with Frank just before they left on their expedition, lacks any panache or creative characterization, while Kelly Macdonald, Benjamin Bratt, Kevin Pollack, and America Ferrera are all wasted in their roles.
Structurally Special Correspondents is all over the place, too, with comedic set-pieces coming and going without leaving their mark, as Ricky Gervais seemingly belly-flopped onto the first idea that popped into his head without thinking how it would effect the rest of the film.
Worst of all though, Special Correspondents just isn’t funny enough. It’s a sub-par version of an act that Ricky Gervais excelled at over a decade ago and should have moved beyond by now. The litmus test for Ricky Gervais’ future will come with his next project, though, as he returns to David Brent, the character that made him famous, with Life On The Road. If that flops then not only will his future look uncertain, but he’ll have damaged his past, too.